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Friday, November 22, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings

Comfort food does not get any more comforting than this.

I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, so you know it's good.  It was both my first time making chicken and dumplings AND (gasp!) my first time eating chicken and dumplings!  How is it possible to reach the age of 34 without partaking of the most delicious and satisfying dish in America?  I even lived in the South for 8 years . . . shame on me.  My husband (a true Southerner, who grew up in beautiful Fayetteville, Arkansas) was more excited about me making chicken and dumplings for dinner than any previous dinner-time excitement to date.

The reason I decided to tackle this dish is that he and I put up 34 quarts of canned chicken a week ago, after the Fall butchering of our laying hens.  I had more old hens than I care to admit, because I can't resist letting my hens hatch a clutch of chicks every time one of them goes broody (broody is when a hen stops laying, and only wants to sit on eggs all day, taking little or no food or water for about three weeks.  Certain breeds, like buff orpingtons, are more prone to broodiness than others--some hens will never go broody in their lifetime).
We did a bone-in method.  I added a teaspoon of chicken stock
and a pinch of fresh windowsill herbs: rosemary, sage, and thyme.
I wish all my jars had been wide-mouthed, but it was nice to not
have to buy any new jars.  Each jar had to pressure cook at 10
pounds of pressure for an hour and fifteen minutes (for our elevation)
We  have always butchered cockerels (a rooster that is less than a year old) right when they reach five months of age, but I've kept all the pullets (hens less than a year) for several years to add to my laying stock, and this Fall I realized we had too many chickens.  Knowing that the meat of these hens would be a little more tough than that of a young rooster, I researched canning chicken for weeks leading up to harvest day.  I knew from articles I had previously read that canning the meat would render it much more tender and flavorful than any other method of long-term storage, and that's what I wanted.
My favorite hen, Scarlett Johansson, with her seven "chicks" in
May 2012.  It seems like there are two cockerels for every pullet
in each clutch of chicks . . . but that means more healthy,
home-grown, hormone- free chicken in our freezer or pantry . . .
Hens free-ranging in part of my backyard.  This was in
August of 2010, before I built a fence around my garden.
Mistress Flora scratching around in the garden (July 2012)
I love my hens and always name them--they really receive the best
possible love and care during their lives.  But I am also a meat-eater,
and there's not better way to ensure the quality of your meat than
to raise your own.  I know it may seem corny to many people, but
my husband always thanks the chickens for their lives before he
butchers them.  We give them a good life, and they do the same for us.
This photo is from this past Spring (May 2013) when my Nanking
cherry trees were in bloom.  This isn't even close to all the chickens
we had--it was definitely time to butcher.  To quote Barbara
Kingsolver: "Having no self-sustaining bloodlines to back up the
industry is like having no gold standard to underpin paper currency.
 Maintaining a natural breeding poultry flock is a rebellion, at the
 most basic level, against the wholly artificial nature of how
foods are produced. ” (From: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
It was a long, looooooooooong day.  And of course, November Idaho weather is nothing but unpredictable.  Allen butchered, skinned, and cleaned 23 chickens in a good ol' early Winter blizzard (I kept a flock of ten buff orpingtons for eggs and meat next year, plus one cuckoo maran and her four 2-month-old chicks).  I was toasty and warm inside, but worked hard manning (er . . . womanning?) the pressure canner all day.  When ten PM hit, I still had two batches to go, which I saved for the next day.  I don't think "canned chicken" is an aroma that's gonna sell well in the scented candle world . . .

But it was worth it.  The chicken turned out superbly, and is fully cooked and ready to go, any time I need to add tender chicken to a dish.

And what better dish could they be used for than chicken and dumplings?  None, I tell you!

1 comment:

  1. I checked in to hunt down your crepes recipe, and I found this. I am now salivating for chicken and dumplings, made with your lovingly raised and canned chickens. I'm glad you do this!


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